I've constantly been an individual who, when a problem or issue arises, wants that problem fixed and taken care of as soon as possible. It's not necessarily that I'm seeking today's version of "instant gratification," but I know the sooner you address an issue, the less of an obstacle it is to overcome.
For example, after struggling for nearly six years of compulsory exercise habits, body image problems, anxiety, depression and, derived from internalized homophobia and the fight with my faith, a full-blown eating disorder, I told myself that coming out to my close family and friends would "cure me," (aside from tradition and Christian counseling) and resolve the majority of my conflicts. Well, it didn't. I also thought that by telling everyone around me and the rest of the world about my sexuality would make all of my problems go away, too, and it didn't.
Now, the preponderance of society (in my opinion) believes that if you are male and struggle with body image issues, have an eating disorder, or speak on the issues related to your body, you are more than likely to identify as LGBT. This is absolutely not true.
I spoke to a group of roughly 250 students two years ago, back when I was still not comfortable discussing my sexuality during presentations. I hit hard that stigma with being male (or LGBT) makes it difficult to break barriers and to find the strength to reach out for the help so desperately needed and deserved. I had two young gentlemen, 17 and 18, entering the military post-graduation, approach me afterward. They were ashamed, solemn and terrified at the realization that they were in fact struggling with the reflection in the mirror and never knew. Would they have come forward if they had known about my sexuality? I cannot tell, nor will I play the "what if" game.
Though it is true that individuals within the LGBT community do in fact come forward more often with issues linked with eating disorders, research has not necessarily come to the conclusion that there are actually more LGBT individuals suffering. So, this is an extremely important and tremendous opportunity to build partnerships with our straight allies, as they are just as susceptible.
I have to call out the LGBT community (including myself in the past) in regards to emphasizing the physical and our reflection above a personality and the actual person. Yes, the media, past life experiences, genetics and various coping skills (or lack thereof) contribute to an unhealthy image of one's self. However, being an individual who knows those things listed have contributed to my illness, I now realize after coming out of the shadows of it all that, at some point of developing the coping mechanisms to deal with countless concerns, therein lies the responsibility of making the conscious decision to keep fighting, to keep striving and to put every effort in keeping it all together.
Look, I am not always happy with what I see in the mirror every morning and I am not always willing to give God the credit for creating me as I am with the body-type that I have -- and I've been in recovery for three years.
I don't want to be trapped into a box. Whether it's a certain body type I or someone else may have or a political viewpoint I may or may not share, I started talking about these things, sharing and being open because that (not using my voice) was what had encouraged me to struggle in the first place -- that was what had taken me to that extremely dark period in my life.
It takes time, it takes hard work, but believe me, it not only is possible, it is one of the most gratifying capability to regain life back.
We, as a community -- again, I don't like labels or boxes, but I understand that strength, pride, unity and a sense of acceptance can ripen from such associations -- have an amazing opportunity, and, urgent duty, to take care of ourselves and those around us. Learn to appreciate body types in all shapes and sizes. Don't slate people who don't follow to societal images. Seek out role models that don't conform to the status quo. Don't emphasize your reflection as an indication of your worth or your identity. Learn to value the person inside.
If you have trouble accepting your body, take the concern seriously. Don't confuse who you are with what you think you see. Develop a sense of identity based on all of your qualities and on your principles. Put your body back together. Indulge in life's pleasures; we each have our own list.
And finally, confront homophobia of all different types -- including internalized homophobia. Don't accept being treated as anything but an individual -- with purpose, strength and just as much, if not more so, reason to be here. Life begins at the end of our comfort zones -- when will you venture beyond yours?
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